Pagosa’s economic future

In difficult times like these, talk in many quarters centers on the topic of economic development. In Pagosa Country, that subject occupies the attention of individuals and organizations, all seeking answers to the question of how to find ways to boost economic security and rational growth in the community.

The backdrop to our economic environment is similar to that in larger communities and regions. In some ways it is similar to our national dilemma.

When a new president takes office in the near future, he and his cohorts must tackle the problem of reviving a weakened economy and a somewhat demoralized citizenry. They must do so, if the basics of a strong economy are to be observed, by putting government money, when and if used, into the support of, or the creation of productive industries. Anything else creates entitlements, and dependence.

For decades, in particular since the demise of the timber industry, Pagosans have sought to create productive industry here. Some deemed real estate “productive.” It is not; it produces no goods; it aids in their transfer. Construction has, indeed, been productive, but the expansion of that industry rode an inflated and unstable trend.

Now and then, a small industry or productive business moves here — but not many. Efforts continue to attract such enterprises but shipping distances, availability of materials and a host of other problems plague the overall effort.

What we do have is a service economy, an economy dominated by middle men, hoteliers, retailers, salespersons, restaurateurs. And it is likely this will remain our dominant model for some time to come.

The question, then, is what kind of economic development should be encouraged?

We believe much of it should entail the attraction of individuals and organizations that can provide the types of amenities that lure tourists to the area, and a base needed to encourage a renewed, realistic growth in the real estate and construction sectors, via relocation of new residents.

Several years ago, a poorly conceived “public/private” initiative failed to produce a spurt in downtown commercial and residential development — specifically the construction of higher-end structures and spaces for the types of amenities that could transform the area. Now, there is but one downtown commercial project underway: a large hotel. We need to ask ourselves, What will make people want to come here to reside at said hotel or at others, then return? This will not happen on a large scale until visitors can stroll in a downtown area, frequent a significant variety of eating establishments, shop at retail outlets that span the quality/price spectrum, and enjoy themselves at numerous outlets that provide an attractive nightlife.

Further, those who will have the funds in the near future necessary to relocate here, to buy homes now idling on the market, are not going to come here in the numbers needed to put a healthy shot into our economic arm until these and other elements are in place.

It was easy a few years ago for residents who believed their arrival here did not change this place to cry about Pagosa staying Pagosa. It was easy a few years ago for those set in their ways, many with families here for generations, to buy into the illusion that Pagosa could remain the Pagosa they had known, that their parents had known. That it could stay that way and, miraculously, produce stable jobs for them and their descendents.

Think again. Times have changed, and the wheel has turned, quickly and sharply. A fully stable turnaround here is probably never going to occur; we are, after all, a typical western town whose major productive industries — agriculture and timber — are a thing of the past. But we can and should make every effort to buffer ourselves, to enhance our chances to provide jobs at all levels, to secure a share of revenues once they become available again — once these difficult times, here and elsewhere, lessen and become a memory.

Karl Isberg